As the world scrambles to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, more and more nations are pledging the net zero targets necessary to help us get there. In 2019, the UK became the first major economy to make the pledge – committing to a legally binding target of reaching net zero by 2050. To meet this goal, we’ll need to see a transformation of our society at all levels. It will require both government mandate and grassroots action, with practical measures taken by all of us – from individuals and businesses to communities and local government.  

We’re pleased to report that ever-greater numbers of local authorities and community groups are rising to this considerable challenge by setting ambitious decarbonisation targets and implementing much-needed sustainable strategies. This shift towards renewable energy will provide tangible benefits to communities for generations to come – helping reduce pollution, create green jobs, cut costs, and future-proof infrastructure. 

But these groups face unique challenges in achieving their decarbonisation goals: often hampered by capital shortfalls, gaps in central government support, or a lack of time and expertise.  

Here at Avieco, we’re working alongside local communities to help find innovative solutions.  

We’ve supported the likes of Swaffham Prior Community Land Trustwho are currently in the commercialisation phase of the first off-gas grid heat network retrofit in the country; and Staplehurst Cricket & Tennis Club, who have identified solar photovoltaics and ground source heat pumps as the most feasible route to decarbonising their facilities. 

We understand that local communities often have the desire to make big changes, but don’t always have the confidence to know where to start. Read on for our 10 practical steps you as a community can take towards decarbonising your energy or download our community-led energy projects guide for more information.

1. Don’t depend on the grid decarbonising for you  

Yes, it’s true that both the power and gas grid are decarbonising, but this will only get us so far. At the current rate of grid decarbonisation, we will miss our country’s net zero targets by a considerable margin – assuming that we continue to introduce renewable and low-carbon sources at the current rateIf your community’s aim is to be a contributor to the UK’s net zero targets, you’ll need to act independently too 

2. Set up climate steering committee 

An important first step is to establish a dedicated and passionate committee to lead your community’s transitionA committee ensures a degree of accountability and gives members the platform and conviction to champion their rolesBonus points for diversity – as this will be key to ensuring you have the breadth of experience needed to make your goals a success. 

3. Develop your targets and plan how to hit them 

Every task needs a target. You need to know exactly what you’re aiming for, and how to get there. Ask yourself “what do we want to achieve?” and “what is practical?” when setting your sustainability goals  – and then ensure that you have a robust roadmap in place to help you realise them.  

4. Map your skills and understand the knowledge gap 

Its important to recognize your own strengths – the skills you already no doubt possess within your committee and wider community to help make this project a success. But don’t ignore your skill gaps. Few communities are blessed with every expert, and even the biggest, wealthiest, most experienced entities need support sometimes. Make sure you get the right people in the room alongside you. 

5. Take a technical feasibility study 

A renewable energy study will examine your available resources for hosting renewable energy technologies – whether that be roofs for solar panels, fuel for biomass heat or land for ground source heat pumps – and indicate the option that is both technically feasible and financially attractive. The idea is to take your longlist of renewable options and hone in on the one or few preferred options that ultimately offers the best possible route for your community.  

6. Get the wider community involved and make your vision real 

Be proactive with community engagement and make sure you’re visible. The key to success for any community energy project is… wellthe community. Without their buy-in, delivering such goals becomes extremely difficult. Keep the community involved. Open, honest and regular communication will help bring them along with you. Noone likes surprises (especially not when it comes to the place they call home) 

7. Choose your governance structure 

Whether you decide to operate as a cooperative, Community Interest Company (CIC) or Community Benefit Society (BenCom), a formal democratic structure offers legitimacy and legislative provisions to those involved. Each comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Find the right fit for your project. 

8. Attract sustainable finance  

For many communities embarking on their decarbonising journey, the funding gap can feel more like a chasm. Many community groups simply won’t have the required capital to implement a project of this magnitude, but there are many opportunities to attract sustainable finance out there – whether through central government grants, charitable grants or private investorsDon’t miss out.  

9. Make your voice heard 

Don’t be afraid to be vocal about the sustainable future you want to seeRural communities often face a more challenging path towards decarbonisation, with their urban counterparts typically attracting the lions share of state support and fundingDon’t get left behind. Make the effort to be heard – and continue demanding more in the way of specific government support for your area.   

10. Reap the rewards 

Finally, make the dream a reality and install and implement your chosen renewable technologies. With considerable due diligence, ambitious goals, and the passion and planning of your steering committee – alongside outside funding and support – you can realise your climate goals and reap benefits that will be enjoyed by your community for generations.   

Every community can play its part in the UK’s Net Zero journeyAnd the government-backed Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) can help you along the way 

It provides rural communities of up to 10,000 residents with the capital needed to kick-start their renewable energy project and fund a number of the processes outlined above. A Stage 1 grant of up to £40,000 can cover an initial feasibility study at no cost to the community. The RCEF can help with technical analysis, community engagement, governance appraisal, and an assessment of the various financial routes available – all designed to help your community decarbonise and thrive.  

Our sustainability experts have plenty of experience on RCEF projects and can help navigate your community through the various steps of your application – partnering with you on the path towards achieving your climate goals. We’re used to collaborating with communities, finding the best energy solution for every situation, and supporting you in the switch to renewables. Speak to our in-house team todayand together we’ll help you rise to the Net Zero challenge  

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